The 1986 Girls’ Swim Team established itself as one of the strongest teams in the Gator Tradition. This team faced many challenges. There was the pressure to repeat the unexpected feat of the 1985 State Champion team. There was the challenge of the WPIAL top ranked teams, Bethel Park and North Allegheny who were upset at the PIAA Championships the previous year. There was the freshman class bringing talented swimmers to add depth to the team including Melanie Morgan, a Nationally ranked USA swimmer. The press and coaches anticipated the showdown of All-American and holder of six individual PIAA gold medals, senior, Michelle Chow and Melanie. The envy of other WPIAL coaches also proved as a warning of two highly competitive, nationally ranked swimmers competing not only on the same team, but also in the same events. But with the mature attitude of these individuals, the leadership of the returning letter winners, WPIAL and PIAA qualifiers, and our captains, Michelle Chow, Jennifer Quel, and Sharon McBride, the team concept won out and motivated each swimmer. The 1986 team eventually qualified a Gator record IO girls to the WPIAL Championships. The members team held 8 of the IO Gateway team records proving the strength of this team. 1986 proved to be a pivotal year in Gateway Girls’ swimming because of the 1985 State Championship coupled with the publicity and the young talent coming to the high school that would be competing for the next years. This team established the winning competitive attitude for the future Gator Girls’ teams.

The dual meet season was the first hurdle in establishing the Gators, the reigning State Champions, as a WPIAL and PIAA contender. The old “SWAMP” created many unique logistical situations as the 29 girls and 24 boys trained at different times in split squads in our pool, other pools, in the stands and in the weight room. But at meet time the individuals bonded and supported each other becoming a unified team. The team’s 10-3 record doesn’t resound with dynasty. However except for the loses, the Gators dominated their opponents and in many cases our WPIAL qualifiers did not swim all of their allowable events. The Bethel Park and North Allegheny meets were as competitive and as exciting as any championship setting. Both teams defeated the Lady Gators by 11 points, but remember at away meets the Gators having no divers started 13 points down.

So, swimming wise the Gators were victorious and the other teams knew to savor the victory they had to win by 14 points. The Shaler meet was one of those meets for which a coach takes the blame. Being the last meet of the season, many of the WPIAL qualifiers were excused from the meet in order to practice and prepare for the next week’s WPIAL Championships. The non-qualifying swimmers were given a chance to compete for their best times and also possibly qualify. Even with being 13 points behind from diving, there was no loss anticipated as we swam very well doing many personal best times.

Highlights of the season included winning the Moon Christmas Invitational, and defeating our rivals from Plum and Franklin Regional who had very strong teams placing 6th and 9th respectively at the WPIALS. The Gator Girls rose to each occasion with their competitive nature, talent and cheering. The dual meet season ended with 10 WPIAL qualifiers, another Section title, and above all this team established the spirit, confidence, sportsmanship and competitiveness which continues to this day.

The press and other coaches declared the Gators the team to beat (good strategy) and were guessing if the two premier sprinters in the WPIAL competing against each other was effective strategy. Well, the team survived, Michelle Chow survived and Melanie Morgan survived. Along the way, Anne Spaeder won her second consecutive 200 Individual Medley gold medal qualifying for States in this event and the 100 Butterfly.

Celeste Makiel took third in the 200 Free, qualified for States and took eighth in the 500 Free. The 400 Free Relay of Chow, Maki el, Spaeder, and Morgan won the gold medal and qualified for States. Additional team points were scored by Kathleen Lynch in the 200 Individual Medley and in the 100 Breaststroke, Caroline Cadek in the 500 Free, Jennifer Quell in the 100 Backstroke, Kim Lawrence and Jill Straffin in the 50 Free. The Medley Relay of Jen Quel, Jeanne Truschel, Nicole Pagliari, and Kim Lawrence place in the top ten but were disqualified. AND, Michelle Chow took second in the 50 Free and first in the 100 Free; Melanie Morgan took first in the 50 Free and second in the 100 Free. Both survived their battle and qualified for States. The Lady Gator Team placed second in the WPIAL, 14 points behind Bethel who had a first place diver who scored 16 points.
The Gators were victorious and placed higher than any Gator Swim Team at a WPIAL Championship. They also qualifies in a record eight events for the PIAA Championships.

The final challenge came on March 7th and 8th at the PIAA Championships. Preparation for the two day meet of preliminary and final swims each day included focusing on each performance of that day and above all mentally swimming with confidence and not being caught up in all the expectations especially after Bethel’s WPIAL victory. To score in the top 12 in our 8 events was our team goal. In addition to the WPIAL teams with many qualifiers, there were strong teams from Reading and Dover. Dover boasted it’s own sprinter, Andrea Wentzel, who was seated tenths of a second behind Michelle and ahead of Melanie. Unspoken but adding to the pressure of this meet were the Chow\Morgan\Wentzel dual in the sprints, and Michelle’s chance to win the 50 and 100 Freestyle events for four consecutive years, 8 gold medals, which was an unprecedented feat. With all of this came another PIAA title. The mental and physical preparation, the emotions, and competitive toughness of these girls to stay focused was rewarded. Michelle won the 50 free by a tenth of a second and the 100 free by two tenths of a second. This was 8 individual gold medals in four years. Melanie finished third in both events by a combined total of five tenths of a second. (Melanie won these events the next three years and established new PIAA records.) Anne Spaeder placed fifth in the 200 Individual Medley and ninth in the 100 Butterfly. Celeste Makiel placed seventh in the 200 Free. The last event of the competition was the 400 Free Relay and the winner of this event would be the PIAA Champion: Gateway, Bethel, Dover, and North Allegheny all had the chance to win the meet. The race for the gold was all the Lady Gators as the relay outdistanced the field by five seconds, set a State record, and qualified as High School All-Americans. The final score was Gateway 109–Bethel 80. The Lady Gators had arrived!


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